Student visa numbers and reports from college officials suggest that international enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has been down for the past couple of years. Unfortunately for educational institutions, that decline coincides with a drop in enrollment among domestic students "and has led to real pain," according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The pool of potential U.S. college students has been shrinking due to both demographic trends and less state financial support for higher education. Many educational institutions rely on international students -- who pay full tuition more often -- to make their budgets.
One university that has been hit especially hard, for example, is the University of Central Missouri. In 2015, an international enrollment boom peaked with some 2,700 international students enrolling. Last year, there were only 900, and this year administrators are expecting between 650 and 700. The sudden drop drove a $14-million drop in revenue and led to layoffs.
Why are international students staying away?
In last decade, enrollment by international students in the U.S. jumped by more than two-thirds. It peaked at more than 900,000 students in the 2016-17 academic year, according to a survey by the nonprofit Institute of International Education. Even then, however, the number of newly-enrolled students dropped by 3 percent. Preliminary figures for the 2017-18 academic year indicate a further decline of nearly 7 percent.
At the same time, the number of student visas fell by 17 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the State Department. And, the final number of 393,573 represents a 40-percent drop from a high in 2015.
According to Pew Stateline, Texas and the Midwest have seen the sharpest decline, perhaps because their institutions of higher education aren't as well-known worldwide. The Institute for International Education's survey also found that international students were concerned about Texas's law allowing guns on campus.
A spokesperson for the Institute for International Education said their survey pointed to three main reasons why international student enrollment is declining in the U.S.
First, Brazil and Saudi Arabia have scaled back on scholarship programs that encouraged international study. Second, demand for international students has increased. For example, in an effort to draw more international students, Canada, Germany and Australia have taken steps to make it easier for the students to remain in-country and work after graduation. In contrast, the Trump administration has made it more difficult.
Third, the Trump administration's policies are overall less favorable to international students who wish to use their degrees to work in the U.S. It has tightened up the H-1B visa program, made it more difficult to get student visas, and initiated a crackdown on international students who overstay their visas.